Rolling into a press conference 15 minutes late, when the subject under discussion is veterans dying while they were kept waiting for medical treatment, was vintage Barack Obama. So was his statement on the VA scandal – his first public utterance on the outrageous mistreatment of veterans after three weeks of mounting public anger, and five years of Obama knowing about the problem, if not the extent of the systemic bureaucratic cover-up.
This was the standard Obama damage control statement, a political Mad Lib in which he simply pencils in whatever controversy he finally feels obliged to address. “I’m more angry than anyone about [SCANDAL], which I just learned about yesterday by reading the newspapers, and I have full faith in [CORRUPT OR INCOMPETENT OFFICIAL] to investigate the situation. I’m waiting for a report due in [FUTURE MONTH] before I make any policy recommendations, but for now let me emphasize that no one cares about [VICTIMIZED GROUP] more than I do, and I would remind you that my Administration has provided [LIST OF PROGRAMS TO BENEFIT VICTIMIZED GROUP] to demonstrate the seriousness of my commitment to [PHONY CAMPAIGN PROMISE.]”
This is exactly the same playbook he’s followed after every scandal of his Administration, from Operation Fast and Furious to Benghazi and the IRS. I mean exactly. There’s even been a phony attempt by the White House to claim someone got fired when they were really retiring on schedule, just like Obama pretended to hold the acting director of the IRS responsible for the insane abuse of power that he briefly pretended to be concerned about. The White House just got busted for lying about the American Legion’s response to the pretend-firing of VA official Robert Petzel, sending out spokesman Jay Carney to falsely claim the Legion judged it a satisfactory “step towards addressing the leadership problem” when in fact they said the exact opposite.
Obama’s going to put Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki in charge of investigating himself, the same way Attorney General Eric Holder was allowed to investigate himself over Fast and Furious. The President said we all needed to wait for a new report before he did anything noteworthy, slow-walking the scandal just like he dragged Benghazi out until his media pals could proclaim it old news. And he laid the groundwork today for his faithful minions to dismiss all future investigation of his Administration as a political witch hunt, hilariously demanding that Republicans had better not use the VA story as a “football” while he was fading back from the podium to throw a Hail Mary pass over the heads of the assembled reporters.
As anticipated, Obama did not sack Shinseki – the first rule of Obama Scandal Control is that nobody gets fired, ever, because it becomes harder to dismiss the whole affair as a deflated political football after someone gets carried off the field in a stretcher. The President didn’t do much of anything, other than ramble on about how he really adores veterans, feels he has a great commitment to them, gets a lot of letters from them, yadda yadda yadda. This was not a statement about the VA scandal; it was a statement about how noble and pure Barack Obama’s intentions are, and how nothing is ever his fault.
Obama even made a bizarre attempt to claim that most of the VA apparatus works great, and it delivers plenty of good service, if you just ignore the deliberate destruction of records to cover up the death of some forty veterans. “There are parts of the VA system that have performed well,” the President asserted. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
The magnificent and all-powerful King Barack I, destroyer of laws, also seems to have changed his tune about Congress. He says he’s looking forward to having them as a “partner” on this particular issue. Nevertheless, Obama said ultimate “responsibility” for the mess stops with him… thereby chanting the magic phrase that is supposed to end the scandal and keep anyone from holding him accountable. To Barack Obama, “responsibility” means talking about something.
There are some signs the media is growing a bit weary of watching Obama blow the dust off his standard damage-control strategy. Some of them aren’t quite ready to start writing “narratives” about how the President says the same damn thing, every single time, but they know it’s true, and they’re getting a little tired of the “I don’t know anything, I just saw this on TV yesterday” dodge. Drew Griffin of CNN, which has been covering the VA scandal extensively, seemed notably exasperated by the President announcing that weeks would tick past while he awaited yet another study of a problem everyone knows about. “I was a little caught off guard by what apparently is the disconnect between what’s happening out here in the country, and what the President is talking about,” said Griffin. “This problem is real, it exists, and it really doesn’t have to be studied as to what’s going on.”
Griffin added that he was “a little confused by the President’s remarks today,” because he seemed to be simultaneously claiming he was blindsided by the VA crisis and acknowledging that he’s known about it for years. What’s confusing about that, unless you’re still trying to convince yourself Obama is something better than what he is? He very grudgingly admits to something damaging when it’s literally impossible for him to deny it, because even his most dedicated media sycophants have documentation he can’t wish away. But he also expects limitless credit for his noble good intentions, his fundamental innocence. He cares, so very very much, and that should be good enough for everyone. At this point, he just needs the media to forget about the weaselly tactics the White House used over the past few days to distance itself from the story, such as Jay Carney lying about the American Legion, and forget that the President has spent less personal time on the VA crisis that supposedly enrages him than he does on his basketball bracket picks.
Can I be brutally frank, for the benefit of any reporters who just can’t figure out Obama’s supposedly baffling behavior here? He hasn’t cared about the VA until now, because it’s not the sort of agency he can use to expand his power, buy votes, or punish his enemies. To him, it’s a chore, a dreary duty his government is obligated to perform, sort of like border security. It’s not fun or interesting to him, except briefly when he was a candidate, and could use the issue as a cudgel against his predecessor. He appointed General Shinseki to what was supposed to be a sleepy patronage post, and didn’t care much about what happened afterwards – he hasn’t met with the Secretary in two years. He never expected his friendly media to drop VA problems on his doorstep – this has all got to be absolutely surreal to the man who got away with Solyndra. At this point, he expects the media to run a few fawning stories about how President Madder Than Hell is on the case, then let the whole story drop, before the public has any more inconveniently dark thoughts about the perils of government-run health care.
Update: It’s not just mainstream-media reporters who appear to be running out of patience with Obama’s delaying tactics. Rep. David Scott (D-GA) appears to be the first elected Democrat to break with Obama in a big way over this, saying he was “very disappointed” with the President’s statement today, and furious about the “damn lies” told to Congress by VA officials. He also called for the immediate sacking of the VA Secretary, Eric “Sandeki,” because “the buck starts at the top.” (Cut Rep. Scott some slack, he’s on a roll here.)
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